A Weekend in Chile

By Madeline Blasberg

A harsh reality hit me around 8 a.m. Monday morning.  As I fumbled with the antiquated lock to my front door, I realized two things simultaneously.  The first was that the vacation period had come to an end.  Classes are in full swing, and I officially have to grab hold.  And the second reality hit me somewhere between crossing the threshold and collapsing into a drooling heap on my pillow, and it was that a Chilean vacation hangover was the perfect way to welcome in a new school year.

To clarify, this was a non-alcohol-induced hangover.  But in order to achieve the full effect that rendered me completely unconscious on this particular Monday morning (the first day of school I might add), you must adhere to a very particular recipe.

1 part Chilean guide book: Viña del Mar and Valparaíso are twin cities, sitting on the coastline of the Pacific Ocean, connected by a series of van-like buses and a mere mountain range away from my cozy home in Mendoza.

2 parts international bus ride: Approximately seven hours defying all laws of physics as you wind precariously back and forth through the most nauseating series of switch-backs up and down the Andes mountain range in a giant bus.  Tack on three hours each way of waiting at the border to show a man in a parka your passport, being searched by fruit-sniffing guard dogs and getting an illegible stamp on a scrap of paper.

1 part national hotdog: Known to the locals as “the completo.”  Bluntly put, it is the most violated hotdog I have ever encountered.  Not that I make a practice of searching out ridiculous foods, but if the opportunity presents itself I am unlikely to back away.  As I stared at the daunting log of “meat” and bun slathered in pickled lettuce, tomato, avocado and mayo, what should have been a question of good digestion, became one of good diplomacy.  I refused to be the gringa who turned up her nose at a national emblem such as this.

3 parts beach: Doing nothing but marinating in sunscreen, singing N’Sync songs too loudly and too far out of tune as you watch the less-coordinated citizens trying to learn how to boogie board.

The sign reads: Aire Malo. (Bad Air) Not No Air, or Out of Order, just 'Bad Air.'

1 part flat tire: I recommend renting bikes on vacation.  I also recommend checking the tire pressure before you venture out.  And finally, I recommend that when the owner of said bike tells you that you can fill it up at a gas station down the road, I recommend you not believe him.   And when you arrive at the gas station, only to find that the air machine is out-of-order, I recommend you laugh at your ridiculous predicament, snap a goofy picture, and drag your sore butt, your flat tire and your good friend up and down the streets and still have a ridiculously good time.

1 part Sebastiana: A quick walk-through of Pablo Neruda’s house in Valparaiso.   I’m certain that if I lived in a five story house in which every room had a view of the ocean, I could spout out romantic love poetry, too.

2 parts street art: Because Valparaiso is covered in it.  The older, crustier, grungier and hipper counterpart to Viña del Mar is slathered in color.  The rolling hills of the coastline are full of eccentrically painted houses and walls covered in arty graffiti.

2 parts sketchy hostel: Complete with a middle-aged man in the “adult-film” business, some really horrifying stains on the blankets and a group of travelers with some of the most inspiring, daunting and hilarious stories to listen to while drinking cheap wine out of coffee mugs.

1 part elephant seal: A random spotting occurred on a boat tour of the harbor, and animals that are 99 percent body fat and wobble around on their tummies always make me smile.

And there you have it.  Cap it all off with a two hour siesta, a quick shower and a brisk walk to class where you will have to have a friend hold your eyelids open as you review the finer points of the irregular subjunctive and you have the perfect long-weekend Chilean get-away.

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